The unofficial mascot of Sax-Zim Bog, the bird everyone goes there to see, is the Great Gray Owl.
I did not see a Great Gray Owl on Friday evening. I did not see a Great Gray Owl on Saturday. Sunday, I was signed up to spend the day birding in the Duluth area rather than in the bog itself, and hope was fading. But was we headed up toward the lakeshore, we came across a couple cars stopped by the edge of the road. (You’ve heard of “bear jams” in Yellowstone? Duluth in winter apparently has “owl jams.”) There, sitting at the top of a small evergreen tree not one hundred feet from the road, was North America’s largest owl.
It was beautiful. It was so exciting. But while we were admiring this big beautiful bird, someone suddenly called out, “Hey guys, look! There’s another one right here across the road, and it’s even closer!” And then a minute later, “Here’s another one around the corner!”
Check out that white mustache! Like some other predators, Great Gray Owls hunt primarily based on sound, and can hear small rodents moving through tunnels under the snow. We actually witnessed one dive off its perch and into the snow, although I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of this and we couldn’t see whether it caught anything. Also, while this is one of the world’s largest owls in terms of height, it is definitely not the heaviest – that volume is mostly feathers.
Later in the morning we spotted a fourth one. At that point we didn’t even bother to get off the bus. We just admired it through the windows for a moment and kept going, looking for new species to add to our list. And that is the story of how I saw four Great Gray Owls in one day.
To be continued…